Introduction: The French Armoured Force: The Artillerie Spéciale
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Such was the scale of the French tanks’ failure in their first Great War engagement in 1917, it was rumoured that the Artillerie Spéciale (Special Artillery – AS, the code name for the French tank force) was in danger of being disbanded.1 However, by the middle of the following year the AS was such a potent force on the battlefield that it caused considerable awe in its German enemies; one German Major captured in June 1918 by the AS told his captors that their tanks were crewed by ‘much more than men’.2 By end of the war, the Artillerie Spéciale was the world’s largest and most technologically advanced tank force with sound tactical doctrine and well trained units.This monograph examines this aspect of the French army’s performance in the First World War and what light this sheds on the wider issue of the competence of the French army. The evidence and arguments presented will rely primarily on research undertaken at the Service Historique de la Défense, the French military archives at Vincennes, although much of the useful material printed in the 1920s and 1930s is also utilised.3